In case Orwellian surveillance systems like TrapWire weren’t creepy enough, we learn today that SpeechPro, a Russian-owned company, has helpfully invented a voice identification tool for law enforcement use called VoiceGrid Nation. American authorities are looking into using the software at 911 call centers and in police precincts. As Slate reports, it’s already in place and working out pretty well in some other countries:
The technology has already been deployed across Mexico, where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints. Alexey Khitrov, SpeechPro’s president, told me the company is working with a number of agencies in the United States at a state and federal level. He declined to reveal any names because of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. But Khitrov did divulge that various versions of the company’s biometric technology are used in more than 70 countries and that the Americas, Europe, and Asia are its key markets. Not all of its customers are law enforcement agencies, either. SpeechPro also designs voice recognition technology that can be used in call centers to verify the identities of customers. Depending on the size and specifics of the installation, it can cost from tens of thousands up to millions of dollars.
Slate notes that this software is different from the FBI’s own efforts at putting wholesale biometric programs in place, though no less scary.
Mr. Khitrov told Slate that SpeechPro is being used for “noble causes.” His example of one such noble cause was when the technology helped Mexican authorities track down kidnappers via recorded ransom calls.
A look at SpeechPro’s site reveals a product description or two that privacy activists might find pretty creepy. The blurb for VoiceGrid ID has a particularly dystopic echo, offering a “voice data management solution with unlimited database size” in addition to system architecture that scale all the way up to “national system deployments.”
We look forward to a future when products like these have turned the frivolous distractions of texting and iMessaging into acts of civil disobedience.